August 30, 2009 in Business

U.S. troops get first taste of blueberry products

(Salem) Capital Press

SALEM – The blueberry industry is counting on U.S. military power to help vanquish a looming oversupply of the crop.

Troops won’t be raiding storage warehouses, but they are helping reduce supplies by consuming blueberries in their combat rations, including meals, ready to eat, or MREs.

“It’s a really important aspect of the food industry,” said Tom Payne, a food technologist contracted by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to develop new products.

This year, blueberry muffins and pancakes were added to military rations, Payne said.

Blueberry energy bars were initially adopted by the military about four years ago, and now about a dozen types of military-supplied food include blueberry products.

Not only does the U.S. military represent a high number of customers, but its procurement system also provides access to major food manufacturers.

“Some of the most innovative products come from the armed forces,” Payne said.

As a food technologist, Payne develops prototype products and then tries to sell the ideas to military organizations like the U.S. Army Soldiers Systems Center in Natick, Mass.

The product must first win acceptance among soldiers out in the field and be proven more durable than regular consumer goods, said Joanna Graham, a food technologist at the center.

“It has to last three years at 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) and six months at 100 degrees,” Graham said.

If a product is accepted, the military contracts with manufacturers to make it.

Military feeding programs also provide a test market for manufacturers who may want to roll out similar products in the civilian world. So far, blueberry products have been well accepted among soldiers, Payne said.

The blueberry industry needs to find ways to increase consumption of the fruit in light of major production growth.

Blueberry production in North America has more than doubled in the past decade, from about 185 million pounds in 1998 to 407 million pounds last year.

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